You’ll Remember This Post—Really!

You’re more likely to remember Facebook posts and reader comments than people’s faces or lines from books. So says a new study by researchers from the University of California, San Diego and the University of Warwick. “Major Memory for Microblogs” appears in the Springer journal Memory & Cognition.

Study participants were about 1.5 times more likely to remember Facebook status updates than sentences from books. Compared to a stranger’s face, status updates were roughly 2.5 times more memorable. And those were anonymous posts—not posts of the participants’ bosom buddies. Reader comments ranked high in memorability too.

“These kinds of gaps in performance are on a scale similar to the differences between amnesiacs and people with healthy memory,” notes lead author Laura Mickes. Posts’ social nature is one factor that seems to make them more memorable. Most status updates also form a complete thought.

The “mind-ready” informal style also seems to make a difference. Writers often wrestle to craft the perfect sentence. However, our brains may be better wired to remember pithy, chatty comments. One of Mickes’ co-authors, Nicholas Christenfeld, calls this a “casual, personal style of pre-literate communication.” English lit teachers are not so kind.

The study also provides yet another reason to think carefully before typing out the latest status update or comment. “Facebook is updated roughly 30 million times an hour so it’s easy to dismiss it as full of mundane, trivial bits of information that we will instantly forget as soon as we read them,” Mickes said. “But our study turns that view on its head….” In other words, post something tacky, and you’re unlikely to live it down soon.

Now, what about remembering those lines from books? Maybe social media should be used more in the classroom. Teach Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur as a series of status updates. Dissect Dickens’ classics through reader comments. But please, could classes stop studying “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson? That story always creeped me out anyway.


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